Ulster Unionist Economy spokesperson, Mike Nesbitt, is appealing to the Enterprise Minister to accept the invitation to appear before next week's meeting of the Enterprise Committee. The Stangford MLA says that as the day has unfolded, Arlene Foster faces a lengthening list of questions regarding the awarding of the so-called fracking licence in Fermanagh.
"Firstly, I heard the Minister try to distance herself from the issue by claiming the licence was negotiated by her Departmental officials. But she is the Department. Ask the Head of the Civil Service if there is a difference between the Minister and her Ministry and I am confident he will say no, the Department and the officials are there to carry out the Minister's will.
"Secondly, what about the officials who negotiated the licence? Would they have preferred to know about the land owned by the Minister's husband before or after the licence was signed? I know I would have liked to have had the opportunity to advise the Minister in advance, if I thought there was an issue with the land.
"Next is a Civil Service concept called "novel and contentious". This is a safeguard to ensure anything that is new and likely to be viewed as controversial is examined and sanctioned at higher levels than normal. I would imagine fracking, which some believe can cause minor earthquakes, would qualify as "novel and contentious." So, were the appropriate protocols followed, and was the Minister informed?
"Lastly for now, why was the Minister not more hands on? There are few bigger problems facing Northern Ireland in 2011 than energy, particularly affordability and security of supply. The Minister makes clear she is tireless in searching for solutions to these issues. Yet when she hears there is a potential Holy Grail solution called shale gas in her own constituency, she appears to step back and leave it to her officials to discuss. I would have been across every detail. It's what I thought politicians do.
"So, I urge the Minister to clear the air at the Enterprise Trade & Investment Committee meeting next Thursday. Otherwise, there is a danger the speculation will take on a life and momentum of its own!"